- Interior minister says Pakistan made "elaborate" security arrangements
- Attorney: Pakistani government has given Mansoor Ijaz "no assurance" for his safety
- Dispute centers on Ijaz's claim that ambassador sought U.S. help in preventing a coup
- Relationship between the civilian government and military leadership is deteriorating
The man at the center of a dispute over whether Pakistan's civilian government last year sought U.S. help to sideline the military leadership has decided against going to Islamabad to testify to a commission set up by the Supreme Court.
The affair, dubbed "memogate," has deepened a power struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari's government and the military, which is led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman who lives mainly in Europe, was due to testify to the commission this week. But his attorney, Akram Sheikh, released a statement Monday saying Ijaz had been given "no assurance" by the Pakistani government on his security.
"It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mansoor Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan after his deposition before the commission. Therefore, Mansoor Ijaz has decided to make a request to the commission to record his statement in strict compliance with the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan ... in London or Zurich," Sheikh said.
"Ijaz decided in Pakistan's best interests that his statement should be recorded outside Pakistan. He is not a criminal that he has to appear before a court. ... He offered to cooperate on a voluntary basis and no court or commission has the powers to summon a foreigner," the statement added.
Ijaz confirmed to CNN that the statement had been released with his permission.
In Islamabad, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that the government "had ordered elaborate security arrangements" for Ijaz. He said the courts had refused requests to allow recorded statements in the past and said it would be up to the courts to decide whether Ijaz should face sanctions for his refusal.
"I am sure the commission will look into it," Malik said in comments carried by the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan.
The "memogate" furor centers on Ijaz's claim that in the aftermath of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan in May, Pakistan's then-ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, asked him to contact the White House to prevent a possible coup in Pakistan.
Ijaz says a memo "was crafted" and passed to the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, on May 10. The intermediary was retired Gen. James Jones, who had stepped down as U.S. national security adviser in October 2010.
The memo was unsigned but Ijaz insisted it was authorized by "the highest authority" in Pakistan. Its most explosive passage promised that "a new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI (Pakistan's military intelligence) charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan."
The United States has long contended that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency supports militant jihadist groups, but such a move would have been a direct challenge to the military's authority.
Jones has acknowledged that he "felt obligated to forward" the memo as requested, but in an affidavit sent to the Supreme Court in Pakistan last month, the retired general says: "I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
Haqqani has also denied drafting the memo, complaining of an "artificially created crisis over an insignificant memo written by a self-centered businessman." He resigned his position as ambassador to the United States in November. And the most powerful members of the military establishment -- Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha -- have told the Supreme Court they believe Haqqani was behind the memo.
The memo's publication has contributed to a sharply deteriorating relationship between the government and military leadership. Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked the defense minister, retired Gen. Khalid Naeem Lodhi, alleging "gross misconduct" after Lodhi passed the affidavits about "memogate" from Kayani and Pasha directly to the Supreme Court rather than through the Law Ministry.
Opposition parties have also joined the fray in an effort to embarrass the government.